In 6th century Denmark, the kingdom of Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is devastated by the marauding, unstoppable demon dragon, Grendel. Hrothgar's hopes for a hero who would kill Grendel (Crispin Glover) are satisfied when Beowulf (Ray Winstone) arrives from across the sea with his lieutenant Wiglaf (Brendan Nelson) and loyal soldiers. Despite the suspicioins of Hrothgar's advisor, Unferth (John Malkovich), the king promises Beowulf his entire kingdom and his beautiful Queen Wealthow (Robyn Wright Penn) if the warrior kills Grendel. But when Beowulf does eventually slay Grendel he incurs the wrath of its seductive, deadly and shapeshifting mother (Angelina Jolie), launching them all into a conflict that reveals secrets and creates legends.
Review by Andrew L Urban:
The Beowulf legend comes to us from a 3000 line poem about events in Denmark but written by Anglo Saxons in northern England 200 years later. The Vikings were their heroes, and here was a story of legendary proportions. Embellished, no doubt, but there is some basis in fact for a terrible battle in this distant past. Given all this, it's entirely appropriate as a creative decision to use motion capture, one of the most futuristic tools available to filmmakers. Using human actors to deliver human actions and voices, the computer takes the skeletal stuff and builds a whole new (old) world out of it. That also explains the slightly plasticine-like humans, although that's unfair because in fact the characters do have lifelike characteristics, from hair and skin to moist eyes and lovely lips.
But this other-worldly-ness of the process enables our imagination to take flight and the film's extraordinary craftsmanship allows it to soar. The film is aimed at young males, and this target market will thoroughly enjoy it - probably several times. It has a readily recognisable story, eye popping camera work that includes spectacular aerial sweeps, some humour (eg a naked Beowulf retains his modesty by fortunate [and funny] camera placement0, and lots of big scale action. The fights are rugged and robust, with limbs torn from sockets and spears and swords slashing through flesh - but the blood and gore is cartoonish and the effect is a dulled kind of bloodiness.
All these elements give the film a stilted feel - as does some of the dialogue; but overall, with the credibility and authority that the top cast bring, it retains (most of) its dignity.
The one disconcerting element in an otherwise impressive cast line-up is Ray Winstone's unmistakable East Side London accent. His face is the least recognisable, too, while Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie and Brendan Gleeson all look like themselves - albeit weirdly different, as if spent too long with a plastic surgeon. Jolie, as the beautiful version of the demon mother, is computer-contoured for her naked appearances, which alone ensures that the target market will be seduced by this fantasy whose screen time has finally come. (In the 1999 live action version Beowulf was played by Christopher Lambert; in the somewhat better 2005 Canada/Iceland production, it was Gerard Butler.)
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CAST: Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Robin Wright Penn, Brendan Gleeson, Crispin Glover, Alison Lohman and Angelina Jolie
PRODUCER: Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis, Jack Rapke
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis
SCRIPT: Neil Gaiman & Roger Avary
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Presley
EDITOR: Jeremiah O'Driscoll
MUSIC: Alan Silvestri
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Doug Chiang
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 29, 2007 (on Digital 3D, IMAX 3D and 35mm simultaneously)